Revamped ILAs could pay part of degrees

November 30, 2001

Individual learning accounts are to be reinvented and may be extended to cover part-time higher education, it emerged this week.

Government officials are redesigning ILAs, which were axed last Friday, and may look to Scotland where people used their ILAs to pay part of the cost of part-time higher education courses. In England, people could spend their ILA money only on qualifications below degree level.

Adult skills minister John Healey told the House of Commons education and skills select committee on Wednesday that the Scottish model used a list of approved providers held by the Scottish University for Industry.

Mr Healey was unable to give a timetable for the redesign or the reintroduction of ILAs. He admitted that the decision to scrap ILAs had been difficult, but he said that there were serious concerns about the proper use of public money.

Mr Healey said that in October, he and education secretary Estelle Morris took the decision to withdraw the scheme from December 7. At the time, the government issued a press release that said the main reason for withdrawing the initiative, hailed by the past education team under David Blunkett as a flagship scheme, was its immense popularity.

The pilot scheme began with a £150 million budget to provide 1 million people with £150 each to use towards education and training courses provided by colleges and other commercial training providers. By October this year, about 2.5 million ILAs had been provided.

Last Friday the government axed ILAs with immediate effect, saying this was due to new allegations of fraud. Police are investigating fraud allegations in the Durham area.

House of Commons education select committee chairman Barry Sheerman asked if the Treasury had leant on the education department to scrap the programme because spending on ILAs was soaring due to their unforeseen popularity.

Mr Healey denied Treasury interference in the decision and said: "It was first and foremost concern about abuse of the system and fraud. It was principally to protect proper use of public funds."

52 News The Times HigherJnovember 30J2001 An eye on the future: University of Dundee research student Jamie Pearson in the new £1million research wing alan richardson Many respondents agreed there was a need to strengthen communication between universities and industry.Despite the wide range of respondents, most of the points raised will be familiar to the science community.

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